from the AP Press at Google News
DENVER (AP) — Barack Obama is striking back fiercely and swiftly to stamp out an ad that links him to a 1960s radical, eager to demonstrate a far more aggressive response to attacks than John Kerry did when faced with the 2004 “Swift Boat” campaign.
Obama not only aired a response ad to the spot linking him to William Ayers, but he sought to block stations the commercial by warning station managers and asking the Justice Department to intervene. The campaign also planned to compel advertisers to pressure stations that continue to air the anti-Obama commercial.
It’s the type of going-for-the-jugular approach to politics many Democrats complain that Kerry lacked and that Republicans exploit.
Obama’s target is an ad by the conservative American Issues Project, a nonprofit group that questions Obama’s ties to Ayers, a founder of the Weather Underground organization that took credit for a series of bombings, including nonfatal explosions at the Pentagon and U.S. Capitol four decades ago.
The lone financier of the anti-Obama ad, Texas billionaire Harold Simmons, was also one of the main funders of the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth who targeted Kerry. Simmons, a McCain fundraiser, contributed nearly $2.9 million to the American Issues Project, according to documents filed by the group with the Federal Election Commission.
Fox News and CNN have declined to air the anti-Obama ad. But by Monday afternoon, the ad had run about 150 times in local markets in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Virginia and Michigan, according to Evan Tracey, head of TNS Media Intelligence/Campaign Media Analysis Group, an ad tracking firm.
Obama spokesman Tommy Vietor said Obama supporters have inundated stations that are airing the ad, many of them owned by Sinclair Communications, with 93,000 e-mails. He called the ad false, despicable and outrageous.
“Other stations that follow Sinclair’s lead should expect a similar response from people who don’t want the political discourse cheapened with these false, negative attacks,” Vietor said.
Sinclair offices were closed late Monday and officials there could not be immediately contacted.
“It seems they protest a bit too much,” American Issues Project spokesman Christian Pinkston said. “They’re going all of these routes — through threats, intimation — to try to thwart the First Amendment here because they don’t have an argument on merit.”
Ayers is now a professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago. He and Obama live in Chicago’s Hyde Park neighborhood and served together on the board of the Woods Fund, a Chicago-based charity that develops community groups to help the poor. Obama left the board in December 2002.
Obama also was the first chairman of the Chicago Annenberg Challenge, a school reform group of which Ayers was a founder. Ayers also held a meet-the-candidate event at his home for Obama when Obama first ran for office in the mid-1990s.
Obama has denounced Ayers’ past activities.
“Barack Obama is friends with Ayers, defending him as, quote, ‘Respectable’ and ‘Mainstream,'” the group’s ad states. “Obama’s political career was launched in Ayers’ home. And the two served together on a left-wing board. Why would Barack Obama be friends with someone who bombed the Capitol and is proud of it? Do you know enough to elect Barack Obama?”
In a letter to station managers, Obama campaign lawyer Robert Bauer wrote: “Your station is committed to operating in the public interest, an objective that cannot be satisfied by accepting for compensation material of such malicious falsity.”
Bauer also wrote to Deputy Assistant Attorney General John C. Keeney, noting that the ad is a “knowing and willful attempt to evade the strictures of federal election law.”
The campaign’s aggressive tactics could draw more attention to a subject the campaign wants to go away. On Tuesday, the University of Illinois at Chicago will make available records of Obama’s service on the board of the Chicago Annenberg Challenge. The group was set up to improve the city’s schools. The documents could shed further light on whether Obama and Ayers had a relationship.
The American Issues Project is a 501(c)4 nonprofit corporation. It is permitted by law to air a political ad provided that the majority of its spending is nonpolitical. It cannot accept money from corporations and it must identify the donors that finance its ads in reports to the Federal Election Commission. Pinkston said the group has set aside money to carry out non-election related work to meet the legal requirements. It filed a report identifying Simmons as its sole donor for the ad last week.
In the Obama campaign’s own response ad, an announcer states: “With all our problems, why is John McCain talking about the 60s, trying to link Barack Obama to radical Bill Ayers. McCain knows Obama denounced Ayers’ crimes, committed when Obama was just 8 years old.”
The McCain campaign cannot coordinate efforts with outside groups. But the campaign took advantage of being the target of the response ad.
“The fact that Barack Obama chose to launch his political career at the home of an unrepentant terrorist raises more questions about Senator Obama’s judgment than any TV ad ever could,” said McCain spokesman Brian Rogers.